24 May 2012

Buzzards - to be persecuted again?

I could hardly believe what I heard on the radio this morning - DEFRA to  spend hundreds of thousands of pounds to research ways of controlling the number of buzzards to protect pheasants. Under consideration, making it legal to destroy buzzard nests and trapping birds to keep in captivity. All this despite the fact that the buzzard is protected native species while the pheasant is introduced and is farmed for shooting.

The population of buzzards in the UK has only just recovered from the lows of  50 years ago, when they were persecuted by gamekeepers and suffered the effects of DDT. Now it appears that the shooting lobby has convinced DEFRA that once again the buzzard has to be controlled so that fewer pheasants are taken.

Given that commercial shoots put down more than 40 million pheasant poults of birds each summer, a few thousand lost to the buzzard is hardly going to have that much of an impact.  And what about the other predators - foxes, badgers, kites, sparrowhawks - are they to be controlled too? No wonder the RSPB and other wildlife charities are up in arms.

Chris Packham Quote: "In these times do we want to be spending £400,000 battering buzzards? The money would be better spent helping the remnants of English hen harriers I'd say." Hear hear
Photos - top buzzard on post (Pete Cairns), buzzard on deer carcass (Pete Cairns), close up of head (Chinch Gryniewicz), buzzard nest (Frank Blackburn)

9 May 2012

Dogfood bags and seaweed harvesting

For several years now I have found large empty dog food bags on a local beach and, until this weekend, I could never explain why or how they got there. On Friday there was a large truck parked near the start of the walking trail that leads to the Sardinia Bay Marine Reserve in the village of Schoenmakerskop near Port Elizabeth. I recognised the truck and knew that it belongs to the firm that has the concession to harvest seaweed along the east coast of South Africa. I also know that they can collect seaweed anywhere along the coast as long as it is not in a marine protected environment. Seaweed harvesting is a good thing as the seaweeds grow back quickly and it counts as an environmentally sustainable practice. Seeing as I had my cameras I thought I might photograph the illegal harvesting in the reserve and use it to stop the practice. Seaweed harvesting is not easy and the workers work at low tide getting wet and working on what is very rough terrain. Of course once you have harvested the seaweed you need to get it back to the truck and the workers have to carry the heavy wet bags back to the truck. It was while I was examining these images that I finally understood the large empty dog food bags on the beach. The locals are used to carrying heavy loads on their heads like firewood – it is a cultural practice and something that is often seen. Firewood might be heavy but at least it does not drip salt water so it makes sense to put the heavy wet bags of seaweed that have to be carried on the head in another bag that does not leak and continually shower you with water. Dog food bags are strong and watertight and are perfect for the job. Now I just need to find out why empty dog food bags are used (there are so many different bags out there) and how they obtain them. (The good news is that today the seaweed harvesting was not in the reserve – it helps to raise concerns and sometimes you get a good response!)